Hip hop has played a powerful role in shaping the cultural landscape over the past five decades, embedding its influence in everything from fashion and film to language and technology. Over the years, a number of exceptional hip hop artists artists have graced the global stage, with their undeniable talent captivating the wider culture and taking the world by storm.
Among them, the likes of Lauryn Hill, LL Cool J, and Ice-T stand tall, pioneers whose impact reverberates through the corridors of time. Others, such as the lyrical maestro Kendrick Lamar and the power duo Run-DMC, have equally claimed their places amongst the most famous rappers of all time. Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Kanye West have not only made significant contributions to hip hop music but have transcended it, becoming multi-faceted moguls and shaping popular culture in myriad ways.
In putting together the list, we took into account the below criteria.
- Album sales: The number of albums or singles sold can be a strong indicator of a rapper’s fame and popularity.
- Chart performance: Consistently high rankings on music charts, such as the Billboard Hot 100 or the UK Singles Chart, can help identify the most successful rappers.
- Awards and accolades: Grammy Awards, MTV Music Awards, BET Awards, and other prestigious recognitions can serve as a testament to a rapper’s impact on the industry.
- Cultural impact: Rappers who have made significant contributions to popular culture, influenced fashion, acted in movies or television, or played a role in social and political movements can be considered more famous.
- Longevity: A rapper’s career span, relevance, and ability to maintain their popularity over time can be a sign of their lasting fame.
- Critical acclaim: Rappers who receive positive reviews from music critics and publications, as well as being included in “best of” lists, can help determine their prominence in the industry.
So let’s get into it. From Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne and Missy Elliott to Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem and 2Pac, here are the top 25 most famous rappers of all time.
25. Busta Rhymes
Catching the world’s attention with his game-changing feature verse on “Scenario”, that single feature caused a snowball effect, turning Busta Rhymes into a household name. Achieving platinum status off his debut The Coming, Busta’s streak of mainstream success never seemed to stop, with four platinum albums under his belt and over 9 million units sold to date. With 6 BET Awards in his collection and 12 Grammy nominations to brag about, he’s a favorite of critics and radio-listeners alike. Even today, his mainstream dominance continues, with 2020’s Extinction Level Event 2 shooting to the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Joining 50 Cent for a worldwide tour this summer, it’s clear that Busta Rhymes will never be out of the limelight.
24. Nicki Minaj
Hailed as the “Queen of Rap” by Billboard, TIME, Rolling Stone and more, Nicki Minaj has reached legend status for bringing female hip hop back into the mainstream. Named a top 10 MC by Complex and Billboard, she is as critically acclaimed as she is commercially successful. Although the Young Money MC only has 4 albums, each one is certified platinum or higher, and that’s not even mentioning her 15 platinum singles. Certified diamond of the success of “Super Bass”, Minaj’s reign over the radio continues with hits like 2022’s “Super Freaky Girl”. With a record-breaking 132 songs making it to the Billboard 200, 21 of those made it to the top 10, breaking yet another record. A hitmaking superstar, it will be a long time before the queen’s reign ends.
From the moment he broke onto the scene, it was clear DMX would go down as one of hip hop’s most famous faces. Dropping his debut and sophomore album in 1998, both became multi-platinum successes, selling almost 5 million units of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot alone. With violent bangers like the iconic “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”, X revolutionized the mainstream by proving hit songs didn’t have to be upbeat and positive. Having sold over 74 million units across his prolific career, DMX made up for his lack of accolades with some of the biggest sales numbers of any MC. Even his posthumous album, Exodus, charted eighth place on the Billboard 200, meaning all 8 DMX records debuted in the top 10.
Number-one hits like “Dilemma” and “Hot in Herre” are hip hop staples, and Nelly’s albums are even bigger successes. His first two records debuted at number one, each charting for over a year. When he took a risk and dropped Sweat and Suit in the same day, Nelly’s chart-topping status allowed him to take first and second place on the Billboard 200. Holding the title as one of the best-selling rappers of all time, taking home 3 Grammy Awards and 9 Billboard Music Awards, Nelly was swimming in trophies in his prime. Even outside music, his fashion deals with Reebok and Nike kept him right in the center of pop culture.
21. Lil Wayne
One of the South’s biggest rap names, few Southern MCs come close to the fame of Lil Wayne. When it comes to sales, Wayne is a monster – he’s sold over 200 million album-equivalent units since his start, with 9 platinum records to his name. In its opening week, Tha Carter III sold one million units, making it the best-selling record of 2008. On top of that, Weezy has had forty tracks make it to the UK Singles Chart, but his performance on Billboard is even more impressive, breaking Elvis Presley’s long-held record of 109 entries on the Hot 100. Performing “GOD DID” at the 2023 Grammy Awards and teasing Tha Carter VI this year, Wayne’s popularity is just as huge as it was a decade ago.
20. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill might have vanished from the public eye, but she continues to be celebrated like she never stopped making music. More than just a musician, Lauryn is a fashion icon. She popularized hoop earrings and the natural hair movement, with a style that designers from Louis Vuitton to Dior have taken inspiration from. With her instant classic, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the Fugees MC made history in countless ways. Not only was Miseducation the first diamond-certified record from a female rapper, but its first week sales were the highest for any woman in the twentieth century, and to top it off, the album charted for 92 weeks straight. Miseducation is just as revered today, with outlets like Rolling Stone naming it one of the best albums ever made.
19. LL Cool J
One of the earliest rappers to make it big, LL remains an icon today. He’s praised as one of the greatest Golden Age MCs, becoming the first rapper to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to mark his impact on the culture. His smash-hit debut Radio charted for 47 weeks, with 5 of his albums going down as platinum-certified essentials. Beyond the music, Cool James has starred in over 25 movies and 15 TV shows, almost as iconic on screen as he is in the studio. Aside from his acting, LL has dipped his toes in numerous industries, thriving with the Todd Smith clothing line and leaving his mark as one of the most recognisable 80’s rappers.
Ever since Ice-T pioneered gangsta rap with the classic “6 ‘n the Mornin’”, he’s remained one of hip hop’s most iconic names. Receiving his first platinum certification for Power, and with a handful of gold certifications everywhere from Canada to Britain, his sales are nothing small, but T’s versatility is what keeps him most relevant. He’s the leader of the band Body Count, becoming a metal icon as well as a rap star. Outside the music world, T is the face of the Law & Order TV series, starring in over 400 episodes. From video games like Grand Theft Auto to TV shows such as Rick and Morty, Ice-T has had major roles and cameos in hundreds of properties, never letting the world forget his name.
From his platinum-selling catalog to his prolific acting career, Ludacris always finds a way to stay in the public interest. Reaching his musical peak in the 2000s, Luda has six projects certified platinum or higher, earning himself 3 Grammy Awards and a Critic’s Choice Award for his acclaimed output. Whether it be Justin Bieber’s “Baby” or Usher’s “Yeah”, the Atlanta native has featured in plenty of number-one hits over the years, dominating charts worldwide. He may have risen to fame through hip hop, but nowadays, thousands of fans know Ludacris for his acting alone. He plays the role of Tej Parker in the Fast & Furious film series, a multi-billion dollar franchise that kept Luda a household name.
16. Beastie Boys
Beastie Boys have reached a level of fame where their names are synonymous with hip hop’s Golden Age. Right from their debut album, the rap-rock group became superstars, as Licensed to Ill was the first rap record to top the charts. Selling over 20 million units and boasting 4 multi-platinum albums, Beastie Boys rose to the peak of the mainstream and refused to come back down. Even Paul’s Boutique, considered a commercial failure, went on to become another platinum-selling classic for the group, landing on Rolling Stone’s list of the best albums ever made. Winning 7 MTV Awards across 3 different countries, and with 3 Grammy Awards as well as that, Beastie Boys topped as many charts as they did lists of best rap albums.
15. Dr. Dre
From the ‘80s to the 2020s, in every decade, Dr. Dre has been at the center of attention. Not only did he play a major role in the iconic Straight Outta Compton, but as a solo MC, he dominated the ‘90s. The Chronic was a multi-platinum landmark in rap music that perfected the style of G-Funk, and 2001 was an even huger success, certified platinum in 7 different countries and boasting hits like “Still D.R.E.” and “The Next Episode”. As a businessman, Dre is just as famous, with Beats by Dre rising to become one of the most well-known headphone brands in the world. Performing at the 2022 Super Bowl to an audience of millions, it’s obvious that Dre’s name will always be relevant.
14. Wu-Tang Clan
Straight from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan have grown into one of the most beloved rap groups of all time. As a unit, the Clan have sold millions of units, earning themselves one platinum and two multi-platinum albums. Wu-Tang Forever may have been their only project to debut at number-one, but the group swarmed the charts when they went solo, with the debut albums of Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface, and ODB reaching the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Wu-Tang Clan are just as relevant today as they were in ’93, traveling the world for the N.Y. State of Mind Tour, selling merchandise via the Wu Wear brand, and reaching a fresh TV audience with Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
13. Public Enemy
The reach of Public Enemy goes beyond hip hop. With charting hits like the iconic “Fight the Power” and “911 Is a Joke”, the group’s anthems have become the soundtrack to political movements across the world, from the Serbian protests in 1991 to the American anti-police riots in 2020. Public Enemy has charted in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia, and that’s just naming a few. In terms of critical acclaim, praise for Public Enemy is endless. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Source, TIME, and more have hailed It Takes a Nation as one of the best albums ever made. With the group cited as an inspiration for artists from Eminem to Nirvana, Public Enemy are a worldwide name for limitless reasons.
12. Missy Elliott
Long before Nicki Minaj picked up the mic, Missy Elliott was the undisputed queen of rap. Dominating the charts is just a habit for Missy, with 10 of her biggest hits spending at least 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Every album in her catalog is certified platinum, selling over 40 million units in her chart-topping career. Misdemeanor’s fame goes beyond radio hits, becoming an icon for her high-concept music videos. Winning 8 MTV Video Music Awards and a Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for her art, Missy brought relevance back to music videos, redefining how creative they could be. Just this year, she became the first female rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, proving her status as a legend is everlasting.
11. Kendrick Lamar
Despite having taken a five year hiatus from music, Kendrick Lamar is more famous now than ever before. His latest project, Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, was the first rap album in 2022 to hit one billion streams. Even more impressive, the Big Steppers Tour is the highest-grossing tour in hip hop history, bringing in over $110 million. Besides his new material, K-Dot’s older albums continue to bring in listeners, with good kid, m.A.A.d city still charting over a decade after release. His 2015 smash-hit “Alright” is a worldwide protest anthem – the modern equivalent to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, and even more popular. Turning to his accolades, Kendrick has a treasure trove of awards, boasting 17 Grammy Awards and the only Pulitzer Prize ever given to a rapper. Not only is the Compton MC one of the best rappers of all time, he’s undeniably one of the most famous.
Kickstarting hip hop’s Golden Age, Run-DMC are as iconic today as they were back in the mid-‘80s. They were the first rap group to have an album certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum, growing bigger with each release up to Raising Hell. Although the group never had a number-one hit song, rock-rap crossovers like “It’s Tricky” and “Walk This Way” charted worldwide, bringing hip hop to an audience larger than ever before. With their black fedoras, gold chains, and untied sneakers, Run-DMC became trendsetters with their edgy look, pulling rap music away from the vibrant outfits of Kurtis Blow and Afrika Bambaataa. They’re more than just rappers – the group are living history, with an iconic look and style any music fan could recognise.
9. 50 Cent
Off the success of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ alone, 50 Cent would have landed on this list. His first album has gone down as one of the biggest debuts in rap history, selling 872,000 units in just four days. Certified platinum in 8 different countries, his sophomore album The Massacre performed even better, going platinum in 9. His 2000s anthem “In Da Club” charted at number-one for 9 weeks straight, setting a Billboard record for the most listened-to song within a week in radio history. To top it all off, 50 is a business icon, making himself known in the fashion world with G-Unit Clothing and the tech world via SMS Audio. A business titan with many timeless hits, 50’s legacy will keep his name relevant for another century.
8. The Notorious B.I.G.
Twenty-six years since Biggie’s tragic death, Big Poppa is still remembered as the King of New York. In his prime, the Brooklyn MC had a chokehold on the mainstream, with “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” shooting to the top of the charts. Long after he held the mic, his music still dominated the culture, with the 2007 Greatest Hits compilation charting for over 6 years. Selling around 20 million units altogether, both of Biggie’s albums were multi-platinum successes, and his star power was that strong even his posthumous records sold millions. Winning 4 Source Awards in his time, love for Biggie Smalls has only grown since, with Billboard and Source naming him the greatest MC ever.
7. Ice Cube
A founding member of N.W.A., a pioneer of the West Coast gangsta rap scene, a versatile actor – Ice Cube has one of the most impressive resumes of any rapper, gaining more recognition with each achievement. He made his start in Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.’s multi-platinum debut that gave Ice Cube a reputation as far back as ’88. Since then, he’s risen to one of the most recognisable faces in Hollywood, starring in over 40 films and working as a director, producer, and screenwriter on top of his acting career. As a rapper, the West Coast MC has five platinum records to his name, continuing to thrive today as he prepares for another tour across America.
Whether he’s playing in clubs, in adverts, or on the radio, Drake has reached a level of stardom where his music will play wherever you go. He’s sold over 170 million album-equivalent units, hogging the charts like no artist before him. With a record-breaking 296 songs on the Hot 100, Drizzy has had the most hits to ever land on the US charts, spending 431 continuous weeks on the Hot 100 in his prolific career. The OVO founder’s albums perform just as well, with 5 projects debuting at number one in the UK and 12 in the US. Bringing dancehall and afrobeat to mainstream rap, there’s no denying Drake’s musical impact, but it’s his reign over the charts that has maintained his pop star status.
It should be no surprise that hip hop’s first billionaire made the list. With a net worth of $2.5 billion, Hov is the richest musician in the world, named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth. A record-breaking, chart-topping, hitmaking superstar, Jay-Z is famous in every sense of the word. He’s sold 30 million units in the US alone, with 14 platinum-certified albums in his star-studded catalog. Even more impressive, all 14 of those albums debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 – the most for any solo artist in history. That’s not even mentioning Hov’s success as a businessman, owning multimillion dollar companies like the streaming titan Tidal and his own label, Roc Nation.
4. Kanye West
His reputation may be badly damaged, but controversy after controversy has only made Kanye more famous. From the Taylor Swift incident at the MTV Awards to his 2020 presidential run, Ye has always found a way to keep his name in the headlines. Across his long career, the Chicago native has sold 160 million units, going platinum in several countries and achieving chart-topping hits in dozens, from 2004’s “All Falls Down” all the way up to 2021’s “Off the Grid”. Adding to his resume, Ye has taken over the fashion industry with the Yeezy brand, becoming as popular in the shoe market as he is in the rap market.
3. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg is more than a rapper; he’s a living brand. After perfecting G-Funk with Doggystyle, Snoop became a West Coast sensation, selling 800,000 units of his debut in its opening week. He went on to top the charts again with the Murder Was the Case soundtrack, and the momentum picked up from there, topping the Billboard 200 3 times and the R&B Charts 6 times in his lifetime, with 35 million units sold worldwide. Aside from music, Snoopzilla is everywhere in pop culture, appearing in 86 films, 38 TV shows, and countless video games. He even has his own wine, Snoop Cali Red – it doesn’t sell because it’s good, but because Snoop has reached a level of fame where his face can sell anything.
Anywhere from India to Australia, everybody knows Eminem. He rose to fame with the multi-platinum Slim Shady LP, proving to the world that not all white MCs are as talentless as Vanilla Ice, with his edgy lyrics taking the world by storm. As if he couldn’t get more popular, Shady outdid himself with The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show: diamond-certified classics with chart-topping hits like “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me”. From “Lose Yourself” to “Sing for the Moment”, the list is endless, with Eminem boasting dozens of chart-topping hits. With 15 Grammy Awards to his name, an Oscar for 8 Mile, and an Emmy for his recent Super Bowl performance, Eminem’s critical success is almost as impressive as his commercial death grip on the music world.
Plenty of rappers have outmatched his sales, but you would have trouble finding an MC as recognisable across the world as Tupac Shakur. Decades after his death, Pac remains hip hop’s most beloved icon, described as a transcendent rap figure who continues to receive awards and accolades to this day. With a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his song “Dear Mama” added to the National Recording Registry, and dozens of art exhibitions made in his honor, love for 2Pac has never faded. All Eyez On Me was a diamond-certified sensation, and his posthumous records achieved similar success, with 4 multi-platinum albums released after his passing. Praised by Billboard, Source, Rolling Stone and more as one of the greatest MCs ever, Pac is adored by critics worldwide. To have maintained such a dedicated fan base after so long, it just goes to show that 2Pac’s fame will keep his image alive forever.